The Archbishop of Canterbury revealed today that Christians in parts of Africa face abuse, violence and even death because of decisions on sexual equality made by Anglican Churches in the West.
Justin Welby, the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, made the comments in an hour-long phone-in programme on LBC radio today.
In particular he was was responding to a question from Kes, a Church of England priest who had called in to ask why English clergy were not allowed to decide for themselves whether to marry gay couples.
"Why we can't do it now is because the impact of that on Christians in countries far from here like South Sudan, like Pakistan, like Nigeria, would be absolutely catastrophic and we have to love them as much as the people who are here," he said. "At the same time we have to listen incredibly carefully to the LGBT communities here and listen to what they're saying and we have to look at the tradition of the Church, the teaching of the Church, and of Scripture which is definitive in the end, before we come to a conclusion [on the issue of same sex marriage]."
When challenged by the LBC presenter James O'Brien about the Church of England's decision not to perform same sex weddings, Archbishop Welby stressed that it had nothing to do with avoiding upset to African Anglicans. Rather it was about not putting them in danger.
"It [the issue of same sex marriage] is something I wrestle with every day, and often in the middle of the night. I'm incredibly conscious of the position of gay people in this country, how badly they've been treated over the years, how badly the church has behaved. And, at the same time I'm incredibly conscious of what I saw in January in South Sudan, in the DRC, and other places. You know, it's not a simple issue," he continued.
"Personally...I look at the Scriptures, I look at the teachings of the Church, I listen to Christians around the world and I have real hesitations about [same sex marriage]. I'm incredibly uncomfortable saying that because I really don't want to say no to people who love each other. But you have to have a sense of following what the teaching of the Church is. We can't just make sudden changes."
One reason why not, explained the Archbishop, was because doing so could put Christians in danger elsewhere. He explained that he had seen first hand, at a mass grave in South Sudan, the lethal fallout from a decision on sexual equality taken by Christians in another country.
He said he had been told that the excuse given for the murder of hundreds of South Sudanese Christians had been: "If we leave a Christian community in this area, we will all be made to become homosexual, and so we're going to kill the Christians."
Archbishop Welby concluded, "The mass grave had 369 bodies in it and I was standing with the relatives. That burns itself into your soul, as does the suffering of gay people in this country."